Azerbaijani culture is undoubtedly one of the most diverse in the world – combining aspects of its European and Islamic heritage, as well as its more recent Soviet and Western influences. It is this diversity that contributes to the wide variety of endeavors in which Azerbaijan excels, from dance, to classical music, to the much-celebrated local cuisine.
Around 70% of Azerbaijani citizens are Shia Muslims, the main driving force behind their cultural bonds with Iran. Consequently, Islam remains the dominant religion, though despite repeated Soviet attempts to wipe it out, but Azerbaijan remains a strictly secular state, in contrast to much of the region.
Music and Popular Culture
While predominantly folk-based, the most globally popular music from Azerbaijan has been its muğam (classical music). Uzeyir Hajibeyov and Gara Garayev, in particular, have received much acclaim for the pieces they composed, with the former having a statue unveiled in his honor in June 2011.
The quality of Azerbaijani music was there for all to see in 2011, as 115 million people watched their national entry, Ell and Nikki, defeat global superstars such as Blue in the Eurovision Song Contest. As a result, Azerbaijan will host the competition in 2012.
Due to the fact that 9 of the world’s 11 climate zones can be found in Azerbaijan, its fertile land produces an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables which contribute to the quality of the local food.
Beyond the variety of soups and kebabs, Azerbaijan’s most distinctive dish is the plov, a saffron rice-based dish which is traditionally accompanied with a variety of herbs and fresh vegetables.